Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Slog Blog: Week 5

My Speciality: Fine Whines
Monday, Dec 22: The end of the slog is in site: my boss is scheduled to be back on December 26. That means I have to start clearing away all the accumulated stuff on the reference desk -- every bit of silver has a cloudy center.

Friday we received in the mail an envelope from the main branch, stamped confidential, but with no staffer's name. Today, we received another one, without the confidential stamp, but still no name. At least that one I could open with a fear of breaching confidentiality. On Friday I sent a letter to the entire library system asking whoever sent the confidential letter to get in touch -- and that person did, and apologized for not adding a staffer's name.

Wednesday, Dec 24: Today at work we have bagels and shmears; butterscotch fudge; chocolate-covered raisins; a box of See's candy; and pumpkin bread. All these provide noshes for four employees and three volunteers. Hope we have enough. Later: the last volunteer in brought cookies and cheese, salami, and crackers. Maybe we will have enough.

Friday, Dec 26: Hurrah hurrah, my boss is back! And we have even more stuff to eat, thanks to one of our part-time staffers, who brought in panetonne! (And, later, gave me a tin of cookies that I will share.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

An educational holiday newsletter

'Tis the season for holiday newsletters. I rather like the few I get, probably because I don't know anyone with wonder-kids and/or a million dollars they spent in the previous year, so the news in the letters isn't annoying. (However, I find annoying the signature on one composed by a cousin's husband, as it is signed with his name, followed by "and wife [name] and sons [two names.]" If he wants to write cast lists for plays he should do that, rather than sign family correspondence.)

One newsletter this year, from a college friend who lives in Virginia, included a mention of a trip she and her husband had taken around Virginia (maybe a staycation?) and produced this amazing factoid: Sherwood Forest Plantation, the estate near Charles City originally owned by John Tyler, the tenth President of the United States (1841-1845,) is currently owned by the (living) grandson of that president.

What? That's one family with an unusually short family tree. Turning to the ever-helpful World Book Encyclopedia, I found out that after the death of his first wife, (22 months after -- no Romeo POTUS he,) Tyler married, in 1844, a 24-year old woman with whom he had seven children before he died in 1862. Turning then to the Sherwood Forest Plantation website, I noticed it has a genealogy. It shows more than one grandchild still living, all from the second wife, but not all with Tyler's seventh child ( a daughter) as the parent.

I don't know if the current owner is tall or not -- his genes are long, but his jeans might not be.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Burning Love -- or is that the BBQ?

Leah Garchik's column in the December 17, 2008, San Francisco Chronicle ( had this item:

"For $3.99 a bottle, Burger King is out with a new men's body spray, Flame, that "features the scent of seduction with the hint of flame-broiled meat." Unfortunately, they don't have perfume counters at Burger Kings. You have to go online, to, to purchase this product."

I think Burger King is missing a bet here. Why not have a perfume counter, at least during this December. Where better to shop at the last minute? Nothing like buying a nifty gift and getting a nosh at the same time. Then if you're hard-pressed for wrapping, you can put it in the Burger King box or paper your nosh came in -- add a little ketchup to the paper for a seasonal red tone.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Slog Blog, Week 4

My Speciality: Fine Whines

Monday, Dec 15: Last week I couldn't get the Slog Blog to space correctly -- that's why it looks so terrible.

I may have over-anticipated stress (well, that's what being a pessimist is all about, no?) as the past three weeks have been notable mostly for boredom, with few patrons, few questions, and some inability to get things done because I can't do everything on the ref desk computer that I can at my desk. So I've added boredom as a label, just to show that I can move with the times.

Despair was never so funny

I just discovered, thanks to --- I looked at the power point presentation, and came across this quote, under a picture of pencils and the heading "Planning," from : "Much work remains to be done before we can announce total failure to make any progress."

If you can barely muster even a tepid interest in motivational posters, take a look at Despair, which specialized in demotivational posters that more or less gently spoof the motivators. Wonderful stuff, with full color graphics, just like the motivators -- but without the exclamation points.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Demanding Beggars

No, the title doesn't refer to panhandlers. It refers to an out-of-state public university library that sent an interlibrary-loan request with this borrowing note in the section regarding shipping:

Loans by 1st class or express. Copies by e-mail, express mail.

Well lah-de-dah. We lack the facilities to scan material for email transmission, plus they want an entire small book which we wouldn't scan if we did have the facilities. We mail using library or media rate, whatever it's called these days. We have twice in the past year run out of money for postage. We have no budget for using anything but the US Post Office.

Politeness keeps me from responding that we can't meet their picky requirements; fortunately, the item is non-circulating so that's all we have to say.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holiday Slog Blog, Week 3

My Speciality: Fine Whines
Tuesday, Dec 8: I rode past my stop on Muni this morning -- in fact, I rode three stops beyond my stop. Fortunately, I noticed we were at Civic Center San Francisco, not Civic Center Oakland, and got off. I wasn't even reading an interesting book: I was reading the newspaper, and not even anything particularly interesting (ho hum, California is about to collapse financially; ho hum, most of the bailout money approved by the feds is already spent; ho hum, some large percentage of people who had their mortgages adjusted towards the beginning of the year are again behind in payments.) I have no idea what missing my stop means, other than the fact that not many people got off at my regular stop -- usually most of the car gets off there.
Friday, Dec 12: Both BART and Muni were slow this morning, so I was already stressed by the time I arrived. I figured it didn't bode well for the day, and that proved true, a bit. The patron who talked a mile-a-minute on the phone yesterday, making any reply on my part difficult, did show up, and was surprisingly pleasant to deal with: maybe she only talks that fast on the phone? I had pulled all the material I thought she could use, so that helped.
Then there was today's example of the type of patron who wants to argue with every statement or suggestion I make. I don't mind someone who says "I've seen that" for every source I suggest (I just tell someone like that that they are doing a great job of research), but someone who just says "what I want won't be in that title" drives me up a wall, primarily because I've never had a patron who explained why that title might not work. I don't ask why it wouldn't, I just plow on trying to find something the patron would deign to look at. What I would love to do is to say "look, I've been advising people on this topic for ten years, and, trust me, this IS a possible source of information." The closest I come is to say "I'll include it in the list of possible titles in case you decide to see what it has."
My favorite patron inquiry was a few years back: a patron wanted to look up person in a specific type of source. (There -- that should be cryptic enough.) We have exactly the type of source the patron needed. When I asked the name of the person she was searching for, so I could include in the call number the volume she would need, the patron said she didn't know the name! I managed to say, with commendable fortitude, that without the name, it was going to be difficult to search this title. (And no, this was not a famous person that I might be able to narrow down through twenty questions.) I'm still intrigued as to how the patron was planning on recognizing the person she wanted if she did look at the source.
I shouldn't be too crabby -- at least I had some reference work. It's been extremely slow all week, again. This leaves me feeling more tired most days than on days with a lot of questions.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

San Francisco's last blacksmith, 2008

A blog I follow had this post yesterday: Try that post's suggested process -- it was fun for me, with a surprise trip down memory lane. Who knows what you can come up with.

You can see my response just below that post: a quote about Edwin Klockars Blacksmithing, the last blacksmithing business in San Francisco, from The San Francisco Labor Landmarks Guide Book: A Register of Sites and Walking Tours, edited by Susan P. Sherwood and Catherine Powell, (San Francisco: Labor Archives and Research Center, San Francisco State University, 2008.)

What I didn't put in my response is that Klockars Blacksmith Shop doesn't produce horseshoes or decorative wrought iron: it makes "one-of-a-kind tools for ship-builders and industrial supply companies." (p.57)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Treasures, but no Shoppers Rushing Home

The Friday after Thanksgiving I took my car in to be serviced at the dealership in the town near me. Through some miscommunication I thought the work would be done in 4 hours (it was done in 7, "just as I thought," said the staffer who took the order.) Based on the four-hour misunderstanding, I decided I would wander the town's shopping area.

The dealership is in the town with the major shopping area for my part of the county: no enclosed malls, just blocks and blocks of downtown stores. The closest store to the dealership is a big-box store beloved of suburbanites, who generally pronounce its name with a French accent. I got there around 9:00 -- it had opened that day around 6. What I found: plenty of parking spaces in the small front lot (most parking is underground,) and not many people inside. The only place in the store with a crowd --- really, a crowdette --- was the electronics area. The toy area had few people, and was easy to navigate, particularly as I didn't have a cart, having no car to lug any purchased treasures to. There were no lines at the checkout counters, which were fully staffed.

I then walked down the closest street, with shops on both sides. All stores were open (by now it was about 10, as I had stopped first for a scone at a small bakery) but there were very few cars parked. The only store I went into in the first couple of blocks was the Heart Association's somewhat upscale thrift store. It was crowded with a group of three or four women interested in the clothes. I overheard one saying "I'll never shop [upmarket department store two blocks away] again -- the clothes here are great."

Wandering on, I got closer to the street anchored by two chain department stores, one upmarket and one upper-mid range. Now there were lots of people around, but not enough to block the sidewalks. I went into a chain bookstore, and it was pretty empty, except for the cafe. All cash registers for book, etc., purchases were fully staffed: there was one person ahead of me in line. By now it was about 11:30.

I wandered around the street with the anchor tenants and lots of small shops: not many people there either. Certainly no congestion on the sidewalks. I then headed back to a restaurant near the car dealer for lunch, which didn't have much in the way of customers. (And then I got stuck reading old magazines at the dealer for a couple of hours -- the library nearby is being rebuilt, so I couldn't go there.)

I was surprised the next day to read in the SF Chronicle a report that there had been big crowds in that same area I had been in. Maybe at 6am, maybe after lunch, but not between 9am and noon.

Thanks to absent-mindedness, I had to go back the next day to retrieve the jacket I had left in the bakery (just to be polite I had a chocolate chip scone ....) Now having a car, I went back to the big-box store with the French pronunciation to actually make some purchases. I arrived around 9:30: again, plenty of parking outside and few people inside the store. One toy on special that I assumed would be sold out was still available. There were no lines at the cash registers. A number of staffers were wandering around, apparently with maps of where some specials were located, but there weren't any people to give them to.

The one interesting thing about that store is that it had racks and racks and racks of 50% off clothing -- none of the current stuff, and a few items weren't even for fall/winter. The clothing was all very jammed together on the racks -- the whole effect was very different from the store's usual displays. The message the racks sent was that this store isn't doing well -- certainly the lack of shoppers both days seemed to confirm that.

Holiday Slog Blog, Week 2

My speciality: Fine Whines

Monday, Dec 1: An email has arrived announcing the date of the holiday party at the main library. Our party will be sometime in January, as the head of our branch wants to be present for it. She's the one who is on vacation until December 26, then on further vacation for the rest of December. Fa la la la la, la la, la la.

Wednesday, Dec 3: So far, it's been fairly stress-free while my boss has been gone. We've had a trickle of patrons each day, with very little reference work. Instead of stress, I'm feeling worried that I will fall asleep in my chair and fall onto the floor .... I'm impressing myself: very little stress eating, despite a plethora of chocolate candies, and, today, two types of cookies. Since I don't really need any stress to pig out on whatever sweets are available, I'm now hoping that maybe I can keep this up permanently, becoming slender and bee-yuo-tea-full. Let's hope so. With no one to share the reference desk with me, it's starting to look just like my desk in the office, with piles of books and papers all over. Just a little touch of office home away from office home.

Saturday, Dec 6: Fortunately, the powers that be gave me yesterday off for working today, even though that left the library without a librarian. We're only open one Saturday a month, and today it's fairly peppy, which I like.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Holiday Slog Blog, Week 1

Motto: Fine Whines, my Speciality

Fri, Nov 21: As of 11am today the holiday slog starts. No, it's nothing to do with the usual holiday stresses -- family, meals, parties, gifts, money (as in, where are we going to get the money.) This has to do with the fact that as of 11am, I am the only librarian at my library until December 26. That puts me on the reference desk for 6.5 hours out of the 7 we are open, five days a week. Yes, the librarians are in an employee union, but no, there are no limits on the consecutive hours a librarian can be on the desk, and there is no minimum staffing requirement in order to open the library. Even with low patronage, the long shift is exhausting or stressful, apart from any special problems that come up.

What better way to cope than to whine? I'm going to update this post for the "week" of Nov 21 through 26 -- followed by two days off for Thanksgiving and then two-more for the weekend. Then I will do a new post for week 2, and similarly update it. I know my thousands of fans will want to keep up with all the breaking news.

So I started the day with a mall walk: I got to the mall in front of my library early enough to do a complete circuit of the two floors. This is part of my "exercise more" approach to stress. Then, hurrah, my boss gave me some chocolate, and, in line with "dark chocolate is good for stress" I ate some of it, but in line with "don't stress eat" I only ate two squares. I've got the rest tucked away, in the hope that I will forget I have it. Further stress pre-emptive plans to be undertaken as time allows: rearrange Netflix list to move all comedies to the top. Find funny books to read on the commute -- the ones I have at home, and, thus, may be too familiar with to laugh at too much, are Bill Richardson's Bachelor Brothers' Bed and Breakfast; Daisy Ashford's The Young Visiters (sic; my favorite line: "The Crystal Palace heaved into view;") Leo Rosten's The Education of Hyman Kaplan (asterisks between each letter of HK's name omitted) and later sequels; and Rosten's revised, or new version, of The Joys of Yiddish --but maybe mordant humor isn't quite what I want. Maybe a reread of Brigit Jones's Diary, and a first-time read of the sequel --- I recently saw both of the movie versions -- plus the Bachelor Brothers' sequel.
Monday, Nov 24: Relaxed, rested, I return to the library, to discover that the front door key won't work, because, yet again, the archive that shares our space did not fully close the door after letting someone out after hours. The good news: at least the door isn't openable without a key, as was the case several times before. I got in using a side entrance, thus setting off the burlar alarm, and then ran quick like a bunny to get upstairs to enter the code to shut it off. Then I phoned to call off the law enforcement responders. I shall count the quick run as part of my exercise to reduce stress plan.
Wednesday, Nov 26: The "week" -- Friday, Monday-Wendesday, has been pretty stress free. Entertainment was provided by the person who came in to the library via the mail room, then, when she was told that she is not authorized to enter that way, asked if it would be ok to leave that way.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Automatic generation and human fertilization

One of the blogs on my Feevy list is "Lords of the Blog," the site for the peers in the British House of Lords. (As the upper chamber in Parliament, that House differs in substantial ways from the United States' upper legislative chamber, the Senate, not least by being far more upfront about its members thinking they are related to God.)

The November 5 post by Lord Taylor of Warwick, Seek and ye shall Fund, summarized his speech in a debate on the British economy. Like all the posts on the site, it was followed by a heading "Possibly related posts (automatically generated.)" The top link was to "Human Fertilization and Embryology bill."

Precisely what that bill would have to do with the posting about the economy is unclear, (possibly because I didn't link to the bill to read it,) but it's pleasant to think that the machine's pick is a bit of humour related to the second sentence in the last bullet point in Seek and ye shall Fund.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Election over

I mailed my absentee ballot on Monday, October 20th.

Since mailing it in, I've received only one piece of mail re: who/what to vote for, plus one phone call that left a message about supporting one of the ballot measures. There was also a group of people on a corner one evening waving signs about supporting that same proposition. I expect more mail will be coming in soon. All too late for my attention.

This is the third election where most of the mail I've received has arrived after I mailed an absentee ballot. Given the high number of absentee ballots cast in California, I think candidates/parties/supporters need to rethink their mailing strategies.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Company doesn't live up to its reputation, and I'm glad

Yesterday I went hunting for a replacement AC adaptor for my portable DVD player -- the one that came with it had died.

I went first to a small chain with electronics: Hi-Fi Hovel or something like that. It had lots, but none that were 9v 2.1 amps.

Just for the heck of it, because I was already in the store to buy some sweatshirts, I also looked in the electronics section of a big-box general store, but it didn't have one either.

So that left the dreaded national big-box all-electronics-all-the-time store in my town. I had heard from several women that it has a reputation for not being very helpful to females, so I wasn't looking forward to it.

Turns out it didn't live up to its reputation. When I asked the concierge or whatever one calls the directional desk, one man called back an employee who had just walked away, and asked him to take me to the right shelves. That employee took me there and found a universal adaptor with a range of voltages and amps. He opened it up, showed me, at my request, how to set it for 9 volts (turns out, you just move a switch to "9," duh) and, looking at my old adaptor, pointed out the correct tip to use on the new one-- a good thing, as I would have chosen another. He did all of this without giving any sign of annoyance or condescension.

So points for that chain. I was in and out quickly, and, it turns out, the item was elegible for a rebate. Next time anyone says anything about that chain providing sexist service, I'll speak up in its favor.

The best part of all: I finally got to watch the final disk in Foyle's War.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Put a necktie on your cat when it's job-hunting

The State of Missouri has set up a recruiting site and job fair on Second Life. They recently made their first hire, an IT employee. The employee first appeared at the virtual job fair as a "small cat with a red bow tie." Perhaps because of the cat's tie, he got an in-person interview (no report on what he wore) and then got the job. The moral of this story is to be sure your avatar wears business attire (to the extent possible, given the avatar) to any virtual job fairs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's National Punctuation Day!

Today is National Punctuation Day -- see!

Within that post is a link to an article that will cause heart palpitations in any lawyers you know who deal with contracts: an extra comma in a contract resulted in an increased charge of 2.13 million (Canadian) dollars to one of the parties. I hope whoever typed/word-processed that contract for the party getting the extra money got a bonus of some sort.

If you're looking for an appropriate way to celebrate, try making this resolution: I will not automatically put an apostrophe before the final 's' in a word, unless it indicates a contraction, or a possessive. (Yes, such a resolution is legal.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Did Larry Ellison Listen to Me?

On September 27, 2007, I did a post in which I suggested, moderately facetiously, that server farms, which consume large amounts of electricity, might offer free or almost-free gymn services to the surrounding population, so the exercise bikes in use could generate some power for the server farms.

Today the SF Chronicle has a story about Oracle OpenWorld, Oracle's annual customer conference in San Francisco (see In an effort to be a bit greener, there will be exercise bikes available that, when used, will generate the power to charge the user's laptop or cell phone (or, I guess, both.) "If they peddle hard enough, these folks will generate extra energy that Oracle will capture and use to help power the conference."

I am all aflutter at the thought that Larry Ellison might have read my blogpost -- hope he also read the November 16, 2007 post where I thanked Oracle for providing free museum admissions to the public at large during that year's conference. (Mr. Ellison: any chance of repeating that next year?) Or maybe, like me, he just got the idea from the dystopian movie Soylent Green, in which Edward G. Robinson peddles a bike to generate a bit of electricity to light a small lamp. (Let's hope the rest of that movie isn't coming true.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mr. and Mrs. Famous Male Author

Yesterday I received the Fall issue of Fiat Lux, the quarterly newsletter from the UC Berkeley Library Development Office.

As usual, it included a chatty one-page "letter" -- i.e., essay -- by Thomas C. Leonard, who holds the title Kenneth and Dorothy Hill University Librarian. Titled "Hauling it: how donors help" it started with a one-paragraph story about "a northern husband and his southern wife" who in the 1830s schlepped (that's my word, not his) discarded newspapers from "an exclusive reading room in New York City" to New Jersey. They searched those southern newspapers for information on how slaves were treated, and, ultimately, produced American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, published by the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1839. Mr. Leonard comments and, finally, reveals the name of at least one person in this saga: "By collecting the slave owners' horrifying words about how they treated slaves, Theodore Dwight Weld and his wife changed the national debate."

The emphasis in the preceding quote is mine. Just who was his wife? The noted abolitionist and women's rights advocate, Angelina Emily Grimke. (Note: those are links to three different sites.)She only lost her identity, at least in Mr. Leonard's mind, in 1838, when she married Weld. She has a lengthy list of publications to her name, including an essay -- termed "testimony" -- in American Slavery As It Is.

So, in a year when we have both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin managing to run for high political office with their own names, not as Mrs. William Clinton (as he now likes to be called) and Mrs. Todd Palin, we still have Mr. Leonard, who, I note, does not hold the title of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Hill Librarian, not quite managing to name the "little woman" who helped Mr. Weld.

Ironically, the next paragraph starts with "At Berkeley, libraries today are the places a new generation goes to find what their society has overlooked or not properly valued." Thanks to Mr. Leonard, some of us don't have to go to the library at all to find that out.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Darwin Awards for Galveston Residents

Let's give a Darwin award to each person who, with Hurricane Ike bearing down, is staying in Galveston, despite: a mandatory evacuation order; anticipated waves of 22 feet -- or, in a different number base, Galveston sea wall height + 5 feet; storm surges of 20 feet -- or, ditto, sea wall height + 3 feet. See any online news stories for those factoids and mentions of those staying; I've been following it on

Let's also send a prayer for the 1,000 or so prisoners in the Galveston county jail, and their jailors, who as of this morning, September 12, had not been evacuated, according to the Houston Chronicle -- try to find the story: a link doesn't seem to work.

And, after the storm, let's give multiple copies of Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, by Erik Larson to whatever remains of the Galveston Public Library, with a suggestion that future residents be required to read once a year Larson's chronicle of the 1900 hurricane that destroyed most of Galveston.

Monday, September 8, 2008

We have met the enemy, and, once again, he is us

On the rare occasions when a religious building is destroyed in northern California (perhaps in a major earthquake, or by fire) there is almost always a follow-up story in the newspapers about that congregation's religious leader telling them that while the building was destroyed, the [church/synagogue/mosque] exists, because the congregation, not the building, is, in fact, the [church/synagogue/mosque.]

I was reminded of that by the negative references at the Republican National Convention about community organizers. Community has an rich etymology (that's word history, not insect science) that embraces fellowship, the public, shared by all or many, and fellow-townspeople. We can use community to mean an entire political entity (a town or city) but it can also mean any group with common interests or goals -- say, a national political party, or a local group formed for any purpose.

In 2000 Robert D. Putnam wrote "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community." The title came from statistics showing that while bowling remained popular, the number of those bowling in leagues had greatly declined. Overall, the book points out, Americans were "investing" their time less and less in "social capital," the activities among people that lead them to think of themselves as part of a community of persons, as opposed to a simple political entity. We've all seen it: a chapter of a fraternal order closes due to declining membership; two houses of worship merge; a club just stops meeting.

The new United States citizenship test that will take effect in October of this year includes as question 55 "What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy?" The list of possible answers includes "join a civic group; join a community group; give an elected official your opinion on an issue; publicly support or oppose an issue or policy." Community organizers help people to create those groups: civic or community. Some organizers help people unite to work with local officials -- the Neighborhood Watch programs encouraged by law enforcement are one example. Other organizers help people come to together to "talk to power" at the local level by expressing opinions on issues, or supporting or opposing an issue or policy -- a process that can also be called "fighting city hall." Maybe that's what two former mayors had in mind when they bemoaned community organizers at the Republican National convention. Maybe they should take a look at the citizenship examination.

(Title is from a Pogo cartoon.)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tsunami Sarah

The choice of Sarah Palin as the Republican party's vice-presidential candidate has had a major impact on the city offices in Wasilla, Alaska, the town of which she was mayor before becoming governor of Alaska. I worked for many years in city administration for two California cities: one with a population of about 35,000 at the time, and one with about 100,000. Even towns of those two sizes would have been hard-put to deal with the tsunami-like surge of calls, emails, letters, and faxes that have hit Wasilla, with a current population of 7,025, per the city's website. I suspect that city residents trying to call city hall are having a hard time getting through.

The city has swung into action amazingly quickly, seeking to provide information while not returning calls due to the insufficiency of funds budgeted for telephone service. As of Thursday, September 4th (the first day I checked,) the city's home page has as its first heading a link to "Questions and answers about former mayor Palin." Click on that to go to the page that mentions the lack of funds for telephone calls. More importantly, it also includes information on how to contact the current mayor (and a reminder that she still has to do her normal job); a link to information about public records requests; and "Document Central," a set of links that starts with "City documents -- recently requested -- former Mayor Palin." Someone has done a very impressive job with very little lead time -- I wonder how the overtime budget is holding up. Kudos to all the Wasilla staff that worked on getting the info up.

Hasty reading on my part missed the fact that to find "Banned or Censured Books Response" one must click on "City documents -- recently requested -- former Mayor Palin" in Document Central; I clicked on library in that list instead, and just got a map. But that's my fault, not theirs. Clicking correctly just got the policy on requests to remove books, but that's fine as a quick start. Maybe no reports were made to the city council on requests. Maybe more will be forthcoming.

The city's speedy response reminded me of something said at a disaster preparedness workshop at one city I worked at: when your city has been hit by a major disaster, and everyone is scrambling with all their might to respond to people injured, dead, and dying, not to mention trying to protect survivors and property, you have to save some people to respond to the politicians who will descend upon your town for photo ops to show how caring they are. I think of that whenever an elected official flies in to view a disaster scene. Wasilla isn't in quite that same position, but it may feel like it: everyone's trying to get their jobs done, then the world starts calling/faxing/emailing for info. Again, good job Wasilla.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Apocalypse Then

I have surreptitiously joined a science fiction/fantasy reading group -- I do the reading, but can't attend the meetings, which are, if not in another galaxy, at least far far away.

The current selection is A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller. It consists of three parts, each of which was originally published as a short story in 1955, 56, and 57. The three were then reworked and published as a novel in 1960. Canticle is a post-apocalypse story, set after a more-or-less undescribed nuclear holocaust. Miller wasn't the only one writing post-apocalypse novels (or short stories) at that time: George R. Stewart wrote Earth Abides (first winner of the International Fantasy Award; the apocalypse in that book was a disease that killed almost everyone in the world -- well, in the US,-- not a nuclear attack) in 1949; Nevil Shute's On the Beach came out in 1957; and Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon appeared in 1959. For a very extensive bibliography, see Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, by Professor Paul Brian of the Washington State University at Puyallup.

Nuclear annihilation (by the Soviet Union -- back in the day, the US would not have started a war) was a major fear in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, hence the number of novels and short stories using it as a theme. Reading recently Mary Roberts Rinehart's mystery, The Swimming Pool, published in 1952, I was surprised to see a passing remark that the narrator was able to sell her family's summer home in upstate, rural New York because the buyers were worried about an atomic attack and wanted to get their family out of New York City. That was a throw-away line, very matter-of-fact. For a taste of the culture of the time, try Conelrad Central, a nifty site with too much material that I remember: 1950's "duck and cover" drills in school (in the event of a nuclear attack, curl up under your desk -- today the same drill is for earthquakes,) but also, Our Friend the Atom, a Disney Studios filmstrip and book. (I guess if it hadn't been for the Soviets, the atom would have been everyone's friend.)

Miller's atomic war, which occurred six hundred years before the novel opens, is referred to as "the flame deluge." Perhaps it's an allusion to Thomas Nashe's line "brightness falls from the air," with the accompanying refrain "I am sick, I must die / Lord have mercy on us." The Wikipedia article on Canticle (see link above) notes that Miller participated "in the Allied bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino in World War II," and he wouldn't have been the only one to equate bombings with that line: Time magazine used it to title a June 8, 1942 article on the bombing of Germany.

Following the flame deluge, the "simplification" occurred: the destruction, by the survivors, of technology, books, and the people responsible (scientists) -- there's an implication that the backlash extended to all those who were educated. Somehow this seems less fanciful today than it might have in the 1950's: "let's kill the scientists, and all those intellectuals, and people who read for any reason except belief." Well, the future may be coming faster than we think, and, of course, not always in ways we expect.

Earth Abides had the same disappearance of knowledge, but it was gentler: the survivors focused on in the book simply didn't, or couldn't, learn what the main character could teach, and reverted over the decades to a happy ignorance. I read that book around 1960, and I have a memory of a scene where the main character and another person walk by the UC Berkeley Doe (the main) Library. The other person (maybe a child or teen) asks if there is information in there that could help them, and the main character says there is information, but it is beyond them all. Stewart, the author, was a professor at UC Berkeley, and, given that the main character was a grad student, I wonder how much that failure to pass on information reflects his views of the "next generation" of college/university professors.

A recent non-fiction book takes Earth Abides one more step -- it discusses what would happen if all humans suddenly disappeared, without any nuclear war. The World Without Us, by Alan Wesiman, is fascinating. He uses specific locations around to the world to discuss the probable effects the disappearance of humans would have, and has some very interesting examples of areas that have, in fact, lost all human population: Chernobyl, and a strip of high-rise hotels in Cyprus. On his homepage (click on the title link above) there is also a link to a USA Today article on the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, with a spectacular photo of a house now almost invisible for the foliage covering it -- that has to be kudzu. World Without is great background reading for any apocalypse novel: it's what would be happening in de-populated areas, regardless of the cause of depopulation -- war, disease, politics.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Choirs, Company Towns, and the Rest of Us

"Preaching to the choir" means directing your message to people who already know it/accept it - the implication is that the speaker is failing to address those who don't yet know the message.

We don't have many (if any) company towns anymore in the United States, but back in the past, when, for instance, a lumber company would set up and own entirely a town for its workers, -- see -- one could probably safely assume that the inhabitants would understand that "closed on a company holiday" would mean no stores were open on, let's say, the birthday of the company's founder. Even without the company literally owning the town, there might be so many people who were employed by either one business entity (think Hershey, PA) or by various companies in one industry (think of the cities in what is now the rust belt) that certain company-related dates would be well-known.

The library I work in is a distant satellite of a main branch in a city where some huge percentage of the population works for state government. When the main library decided about six months ago to standardize the telphone answering machine messages in all the branches, they unfortunately neglected to think of the branches outside of that quasi-company town.

My branch used to have a message that gave our normal opening days, with the hours, and then a statement that the library would be closed on (day of week/month/day) for the (name) holiday -- the message was changed after each holiday to reflect the next one. In December, the message would also indicate the days between Christmas and New Years that the library was open, since we got so many calls from patrons who thought we might be closed. No more. In true company town/preaching to the choir fashion, the new message has replaced those statements on closure (and the December special open days announcement) with a generic "closed on state and federal holidays." Quick: what's the name and date of a state holiday in March? How many holidays in February? Is one of them the 22nd? What about the day after Thanksgiving? What about the week between Christmas and New Years? What if a holiday is on a Saturday/Sunday -- will the library be closed on Friday/Monday? (Hint: the answers to the Saturday/Sunday questions are not the same, except for one holiday.)

There is a brief message that one can look on the "library's web page" for more information. Not much help if you are driving, and suddenly wonder if the library is open or closed. Not much help if you don't own a computer. Not much of an introduction to reference service in general.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Breaking News from SpamLand

One of today's spam messages was headed: Monsanto to genetically modify British Royal Family. The entire message was "Watch the Video" with a link to what would have undoubtedly genetically modified my pc at work as well as the library's entire system. Good thing that I have no interest in watching a video showing gene splicing. The subject heading, however, was very entertaining.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pay-for-it-yourself War

The online version of CNN today has a story about US troops having to pay baggage fees to commercial airlines flying them to war. What?

The story quotes Tim Wagner of American Airlines as saying, somewhat airily, "If they pay, they get reimbursed [by the Department of Defense,] so at the end, they don't pay a dime." Spoken like someone who has never tried to get any sort of reimbursement/refund from a government agency, other, maybe, than the IRS.

The Air Transport Association carefully washes its hands of responsibility by saying baggage policies are made independently by the individual airlines -- and it has no plans to ask for an across-the-board waiver of fees by troops going to war.

It apparently is not enough that the soldiers are risking their lives on at least two fronts (Iraq and Afghanistan - but stay tuned for updates) -- they also need to shoulder the cost of bringing their gear. Just how broke is the Department of Defense? Since it's paying for the airline tickets, maybe the airlines could just bill the Department for the baggage fees. Surely Mr. Wagner would be in favor of that -- after all, at the end, they (the airlines) wouldn't be out a dime.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

In Spamalot!

Today's spunky spam that eluded the filter and made it into the mailboxes I monitor at work included three of the "breaking news" subject headings I noted in the previous post. This time I looked at the content shown in the box to the right of the mailbox, and noted the following interesting interfaces.

Subject: Private plane travel to be banned. Content: "New laws legalize gun ownership for teenagers in US," followed by a link with transex and video in the address. Comment: They need a marketing director: they probably would get more readers of the message if they went with teen gun ownership as the subject.

Subject: Google Knol threatens Wikipedia. Content: "Madonna seduced Timberlake on set," with a link that includes video in the address. Comment: Somehow the overlap between tech battles and Madonna/Timberlake seems limited, although I will admit I'm ashamed to know Timberlake's first name (Justin?) without knowing much more, so maybe we have reached total celeb saturation.

Subject: Cambodia attacks Thailand in Asia War. This at least got me to check just to see if in fact a war had broken out. Nope. Content: "How you can save your home from foreclosure," with a link that includes "watch" in the address. Comment: Given the periodic head-shaking story about the lack of geographical knowledge in the US (which is nothing new: Ambrose Bierce said "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography") this subject seems unlikely to draw in any substantial number of potential foreclosees, even with "Asia" in the title giving a hint as to location.

Subject: Robert Novak diagnosed with brain tumor. This, in fact, is true. The content, however, is a quite funny disconnect between at least the on-screen persona of Novak as a combative consevative: "Cute ducklings following in a line behind mother duckling, cute." Not quite what one connects with Novak. The link is to a site with "watch" in it, and has "de," for emails from Germany. Who says Germans have no sense of humor?

I looked in the mailboxes' junk mail folders to see what hadn't made it past the filter, and it was all the usual stuff about sexual enhancement (just how paranoid are men about their favorite body part?) and sex videos (probably including Madonna and Mr. Timberlake.) So at least the pseudo breaking-news subjects are meeting their probable goal of eluding filters. Whether that translates into any clicks on the links is anyone's guess.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Breaking News on Spam

I'm responsible at work for two email accounts, and both get plenty of spam, not all of which winds up in the spam files: a fair chunk winds up in the inboxes of each account. There's always a lot to delete on Mondays, and I have to keep half an eye on the subject lines of those in the inboxes, as a real message can be sandwiched between spurts of spam.

Today, July 28, I noticed something new: some subjects now consist of breaking news: McCain drops out of presidential campaign! Beijing Olympics cancelled!

At least it wakes me up a bit as I scroll through various intentional misspellings of Viagra and euphemisms for /intentional misspellings of a gentleman's favorite body part.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Google Dilemma" by Grimmelmann

Jessamyn West, whose website proclaims that it "[puts] the rarin back in librarian," linked in her July 15, 2008 post to lawyer/law professor James Grimmelmann's talk on "The Google Dilemma." While fully footnoted, the talk is not a legal quagmire (which is even murkier than a doctoral dissertation swamp.) "The Google Dilemma" is a good introduction to Google-bombing and the mysterious workings of that search engine's ranking system, and the social/legal ramifications of both. There's a brief summary about the deletion of results based on a nation's laws -- China, Germany, and France being the example. The last two, like some other countries on the European continent, have anti-hate-crimes laws which require the deletion of any search results which link to hate-sites. In the case of Germany, the original laws (that may have been amended since first enacted) were mandated by the allies after World War II as an attempt (successful) to protect against the resurgence of the Nazi Party. I hadn't known that France had similar laws, and I don't know when they were enacted, but I wouldn't be surprised if at least some of the statutes had the same motivation as the German ones, although without a mandate from other countries.

China, one is tempted to say of course, requires the deletion of sites with certain political content. Grimmelmann has an interesting display of the results of searches for Tiananmen in Google Images and in the Chinese Google Images site. The results from the non-Chinese site include the by-now iconic image of the individual protestor facing down the tanks as well as other images from the protests, but the Chinese results do not.

Title of this post: just having fun with double letters.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Getting Crabbier about Tom Sawyer

In my previous post I commented on ways in which a wiki/blog site (I call it Tom Sawyer's site) used by my library is unsatisfactory compared to this site. I now have another complaint about that other site: I'm getting email from it. My email address was required to register as a user in order to make a post -- fairly standard. Unfortunately, I've been spoiled by this site, which doesn't send out email.

Some of the email from Tom Sawyer is to announce a new post to a thread I am following: that's mildly ok, although in most cases I am following it because "following" is the default setting when one posts something. My fault for not changing the status to un-follow. As the threads all deal with a conference that has now ended, I figure I won't get too much email in the future on that account.

Today's email, however, is inviting me to vote on the most popular wikis on that site as a whole. This I find annoying. Why not just have a pop-up on that site? Either way, I'd be ignoring it, but at least I would have one less spam in my inbox.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Spoiled rotten and so happy

My library system recently set up an intranet for in-house communication. The home page has a link to a wiki intended for posts by our system's employees who are at conventions or conferences. It's set up on a commercial site (let's call it Tom Sawyer's site) and boy, is it a pain in the neck.

While it's called a wiki, I don't see it as that different from a blog -- individuals are posting about presentations, and others can respond. I hadn't realized just how great this site is until I used Tom Sawyer's site. My single biggest problem with that site is that you cannot edit a post after the fact. So there are all my typos, plus, rather embarrassingly, the wrong name for a speaker, out for public view for all time and eternity. I had to respond to my own post to announce the speaker error.

I spent a lot of time searching for help from Tom Sawyer to see if there is, in fact, a way to edit a post. I managed to come up with a huge number of posts on another part of the site itself, not my system's part, commenting on that lack. A number of them mentioned Blogspot as one site having that feature.

I now recognize that I am quite spoiled -- and I'm very happy that's the case.

Monday, June 30, 2008

FEMA: Hire these People!

Friday through Sunday, June 27-29, I was at a conference (aka jamboree, which reminds me of hayrides and square dancing) in Burbank put on by the Southern California Genealogical Society. At one presentation, the bulb on what I guess is still called the projector sparked out -- the projector was hooked up to the speaker's laptop to put up the power point presentation or whatever it was. In two minutes or less, one of the Society's members was there with a new projector! I've never seen such a response.

It made me realize something else they had been doing: each of the conference rooms had a holder outside its entry door(s) giving the title of the session. At some point after a session began, the members were taking down the sign for the one going on, and putting up the sign for the next session. That meant that as soon as you left one room, you could easily find the room for the next session. (And yes, the daily schedule also had the room name and number, but the titles of the sessions helped too.)

And as a third great thing, the daily speaker schedules not only showed the time, room name/number, speaker name, and title of session, they also showed the page number in the syllabus (200 plus pages, I think) for the speaker's handout. On top of that, the person introducing each speaker included the page number for the speaker's bio page in the syllabus. (And was nice enough not to read the bios in their entirety -- each intro took only about two minutes, including a request to turn off cell phones.)

That sociey could teach FEMA a thing or two, or one thousand. Put them together with a cadre of Eagle Scouts and they could revolutionize the world.

Not in Kansas -- or in Northern California

Friday, June 27th, I flew into Burbank (Bob Hope Airport at Burbank) for a conference at the Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. I haven't flown to Burbank since the 1960s.

Just as in the 1960's, passengers exit the planes (or at least Southwestern's planes) by exterior stairs, then walk a short distance to the terminal. Later, at the hotel, I saw displayed lots of photos from the 1940s and earlier of various famous people posing for photos on those same types of stairs. Back to the future!

Having walked to the terminal, I knew it wasn't the 110 degrees out that had been reported for the San Fernando Valley the previous week. I decided I would walk to the hotel, which from my conference-supplied map looked very close by. To check on that, as I was leaving the terminal, I asked an employee of some sort if it was possible to walk to the Marriott. He looked stunned, and after a minute said, "It's a good eight-minute walk. There is a hotel shuttle."

I, probably also looking stunned, asked if there was a sidewalk all the way, and he said yes. I also asked if there were street lights at the intersection, and he said yes. Encouraged by this, I resolutely set out on my good eight-minute trek on the smooth flat surface and survived to tell the tale.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm Living in a Card Shop, Thank Heavens

In my periodic meanderings through thrift stores, I look for postcards, notecards, and greeting cards. I sometimes buy retail versions of those things too -- my preferred site for buying greeting cards these days is the Dollar Tree, where they have very decent cards for fifty cents each.

I stopped by the Dollar Tree last night to pick up a few things, not including cards. The local paper (not the SF Chronicle) in the newspaper vending machine next to the door had on the front page a story about a county elected official who is to marry his male partner today. I used to work with the official more than twenty years ago, so I was pleased to see the news. My mind then shut off: here I am, in the store with good (and cheap) greeting cards. But do I purchase a card for them? No.

On the way out, I even stop and write down the name of the official's future spouse. Do I go back in and buy a card? No.

So, at home, after 9pm, I suddenly think: I should send them a card. Duh!

I then decide that surely I must have something on hand that would be suitable. First stop: Bollywood postcards, using photos of the film industry in India from the book Bollywood Dreams by Jonathan Torgovni. (Link is to a gallery exhibit of some of the photos.) I definitely have one possibility: two actors, looking like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, in matching costumes that I can't quite place in time and space, but looking vaguely, I guess, like Indian soldiers of many centuries ago -- or maybe just like palace guards. They're waiting for filming, and one of them has a glass of milk. Well, no, not the right card: I sent another copy to a gay couple last Halloween, with a message saying I hope they have spiffy costumes. This card is not serious enough for the occasion.

A quick skim through the box with cards and postcards doesn't show anything suitable. By now, of course, I am fixated on the idea that I MUST send the card out early this morning, rather than buying one when the stores open.

Then I thought: don't I have something in the folder with monthly pockets in it for cards? (I realize this makes me seem pathetic, but, hey, I'm a librarian, and we like to organize things. At least my books at home aren't in call number order.) And, indeed, the folder does yield something: it's in the pocket for next January (for future use on New Year's) and it's a postcard with a turn-of-the-century photo of two men in tuxes, each with a bottle of champagne, one of which is being held in a toast. The image was probably from an advertisement for champagne -- neither man looks tipsy. Perfect for a congratulatory note, although I can picture Miss Manners swooning at my failure to just write a note in black ink on white or cream paper. (Which I also have, somewhere.)

I put the postcard, with a suitable note, in an envelope (to lend gravitas) and sent it to the official's office this morning. Thank heavens for living in a card shop, of sorts.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mechanics, quantum and automotive

A colleague is going to Pasadena this weekend for the California Senior Games, which is the qualifying event for next year's nation-wide Senior Games. (We both find it odd that an athletic meet for seniors has a one-year lag between qualifying and the meet itself ---- does everyone qualified in the 80 yrs and up age range always show up at the nationals a year later?)

The state games are in Pasadena. When I asked her where the events were held, she said at some technical college in Pasadena. After a few moments of thought, I asked her if by any chance she meant the California Institute of Technology. She said yes, that's where it was. I explained that calling it a technical college isn't quite accurate: future Nobelists, not auto technicians, are getting their undergrad and grad degrees there in quantum and other non-automotive mechanics.

We both had a good laugh. For me, it also brought back some very fond memories of dating guys in Ricketts House (dorms are houses at Cal Tech) many many years ago --- could it really be that long ago, or has the space-time continuum gone awry? So far, no Nobelists (or automotive techs) among those I dated, but one lawyer, one last heard of in law school at an advanced age, and an anthropology/ linguistics professor.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What we expect is climate; what we get is weather

The title of this post is a statement allegedly made by Mark Twain, according to the Daedalus Books catalog that arrived yesterday. His most famous comment on the weather -- at least it's famous here in San Francisco -- is "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." Today it's considered spurious, but it certainly reflects the summer weather in the San Francisco microclimate where my library is located.

Maybe because I had both those quotes in mind, I found today's "Pinpoint Forecast" of the weather in the San Francisco Chronicle to be entertaining: "Today, decreasing clouds. Friday, decreasing clouds. Saturday, partly cloudy. Sunday, partly cloudy. Monday, mostly cloudy." There's something humorous in clouds that decrease, but never disappear, and then, unheralded, increase (into mostly cloudy.)

Or maybe riding on Muni just makes almost anything funny, meaning ha-ha, not odd. The oddity today on Muni was an apparent bag lady who, when I tuned into her angry mutterings to herself, was going on about "swashbucklers." The streetcar was about to arrive at my stop; I was sorry I hadn't tuned into her earlier.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Sometimes you don't even need to try to keep up with the latest online trends: they come to you.

My email account at work was recently backscattered, with about 200 messages arriving in an hour. This kept me busy for a while, as I can only delete 20 at a time, first from the inbox, then from the deleted message files.

A colleague in our Tech department provided the link above to an article explaining backscatter, plus a link to an article about another use of the term: x-raying passengers at airports. That particular article is, OF COURSE, coming from the Office of Privacy Policy and Compliance, part of the Transportation Security Administration. Whoever chose the name for the office has read 1984 too often.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Subversive Visions

I'm rereading Bellwether by Connie Willis. Her characters work for a tech firm keen on creating (yet another) vision/mission/goals statement; at the meeting the staff break into small groups to come up with suggested wording. The characters spend the session talking about something else. When it's announced time is up, one of them quickly writes down what she always uses in these (or similar) situations: "Optimize potential; facilitate empowerment; implement visioning; augment core structures. " Sound familiar?

The main character in the book is trying to work out what causes something to become a fad. Because of various factoids about real fads at the start of each chapter, plus general comments on how fads might start, Bellwether complements Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, which was published four years after Bellwether.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Stimulus Rebate: Beware of what it reminds you of

I've been thinking that the stimulus rebate sounds like money back from the sort of enterprise that used to be called a cat house. Unforunately, the very fine feline that resides at my house either read my mind, or listened (for the only time) when I mentioned it to her, and then misinterpreted cat house, because she chose Tuesday to show some symptoms that required a visit to the vet yesterday, Wednesday. Today she has minor surgery, and there goes most of my rebate, on the house cat.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Working in the info mine

Today, April 15th, is, among other notable things, Library Workers Day. The name always reminds me of the seven dwarves going off to work in the mines. Yes, we're busy pick-axing out shards of knowledge for others.

To celebrate, we had a good spread of food at our library, always welcome. Fruit, cheese, crackers, chips with salsa, and cookies. (With chocolate, of course.) Yum yum.

I like the fiesta idea, and, being far away from the head branch, the lack of speechifying. We were invited to share humorous stories about library service, and had a few, but what really got us going were stories (funny) about "young people" thinking of us as positively elderly. A good time was had by all.

Well fortified, we went back to the mines ....

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Fake Folksonomies in the Fog

Today my local library system, not the one I work at, announced on its catalog site that the Visual Catalog will premier on April 7th, with searching available now (April 5th.) After trying it out, all I can say is please please please do not let this be a total replacement of the current catalog. The announcement doesn't make that clear.

The Visual Catalog (as opposed to what? there is no verbal catalog) is powered by AquaBrowser Library (registered trademark -- I have no idea how to do the little r in a circle.) I'm not sure where the name AquaBrowser comes from; it conjures up images of trying to read through swim goggles underwater. Or maybe watching a book sink into the water in the bathtub. AquaBrowser's website says that 80% of libraries in the Netherlands use its products; maybe an entire sinking country is the source for the name.

Ever ready to try a new catalog, I entered into the search box Laurie R. King, an author I like. There's no choice of author-title-subject in the search box. What pops up with that search is, on the left, a "Word Cloud;" in the center, a list of titles; and on the right, the "Refine" list, which, among other things, allows one to pick up, under authors, THE Laurie R. King.

Can you figure out what the list of titles is? It's every title that has, anywhere in the entry, either "laurie" or "r" or "king." This is not helpful. I'm being deprived here of the current choices in the catalog, where an "author" search is a keyword, and an "author browse" search is for a specific name. Here I can only get a keyword.

The "word cloud" is interesting. With Laurie R. King in faint gray type in the center, there are lines to spelling variations in orange (XR, VR, Lauria, Lourie;) translations in green (daar, d r (it's hard to tell if the space is there or not between the two letters,) and haar -- none of which seem to be translations of words in the central phrase; and then a large swarm of association words in black: in this case death, kong, court, son, martin, day, luther, prince, novel, queen, england, knight, tale, ruler, lion, evil, princess, richard. What's missing are any words relating to Ms. King's fictional characters: Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes, Kate Martinelli. The association is simply to each word or initial in the search term, not the phrase as a whole. I had at first assumed that the the word cloud was a folksonomy, a collection of search terms collaboratively created by experts (librarians,) and creators and consumers of a text. Unfortunately, the fact that the words link only to individual words rather than to the phrase as a whole shows that the cloud is computer generated, rather than a folksonomy. Too bad. As it stands, it has neither librarian-generated subject headings (female detectives, England,) nor ones created by the public (say, Mary Russell.)

One can click on any of the words in the cloud to find the associated links. I clicked, just for the heck of it, on court, and got, as the number two title, The United States Supreme Court. So, the thought process is this: the searcher wants "king." Maybe the searcher would also like "court," because a king has a court. So let's show the searcher a book on the Supreme Court, because ..... All logical suggestions are welcome. In reality, then, the association is just another keyword search, without context (i.e, no relationship of court to king.) Or have I missed some recent news about the Supremes ? I admit I've been a tad happy lately, for no particular reason, and, as the saying goes, if you're happy, you're not paying attention.

So, I went to the refined list and clicked on author Laurie R. King. The resulting list of books by her is arranged by "found editions," according to the heading. That means that when two editions of a title come out in one year, there is only one listing, with a button to see both ("regular" and large print, for example.) For the life of me, however, I cannot figure out how the list of editions is arranged. It is not alpha by title. It is not chronological or reverse chronological. It is not by series (Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes, Kate Martinelli, stand-alones.) The very last title, on screen 2, is her most recent book, Touchstone, published in 2008. I have no idea if that "last published, last listed" approach is standard. If it's not standard, I shudder at the thought of clicking through page after page for some authors with even larger oeuvres, looking for their newest titles. (If I knew it, I could search by it. I hope.)

The news release on the library's catalog burbles that the visual catalog will be an "adventure comparable to browsing the shelves. ... [The] Visual Catalog is clearly designed with the library customer in mind." The motto for all this is provided by the vendor: Search, Discover, Refine.

I, personally, have never discovered any books on the Supreme Court next to the books on the court of King Arthur, nor in the mystery section next to Ms. King's books. Perhaps I have just been lucky. The associations in the word cloud conjure up for me not the shelves of a library, but the shelves in a thrift-store's book section. Indeed, they are fun to browse, but they aren't my first choice when I am looking for something specific, like the latest novel by an author. Or any info-shard. If I wanted to discover, I'd wander around the library, or the web.

As noted above, I don't want to be deprived of choices. I don't want to be forced into a keyword search, with the need to then further refine it. I want a list of books in reverse chronological order, so the newest is at the top. Surely I can't be the only customer who looks to the library for the newest in fiction?

Perhaps "customer" is the operational phrase here. I dislike it as a term for library patron, but many library systems (the one I work for included) are quite keen on. When I hear customer, I think of someone trying to sell me something. I do not think of someone who is always right. Does anyone, anymore? Nordstrom's (a department store) is idolized by many for its customer service. But it's considered so great, in part, because service in most stores is so abysmal. Is anyone really happy with the service they get in most places? Am I the only one that shudders when a business tells me that they are making changes for my benefit? Is there any reason my attitude should change because the Visual Catalog is shaped with customers in mind?

The outlook is cloudy indeed, if not just plain fogged over. I like the fog I see outside my office window all summer long; I'm significantly less keen on seeing it in a library catalog.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April is the Cruelest Month

April is National Poetry Month, the fiesta that, perhaps, is the source for T.S. Eliot's opening to The Waste Land (and the title of this post.) For an updated version of that line, go to, click on gallery, click on view archive, and go to the Roz Chast cartoon from a 1994 New Yorker. Then celebrate National Poetry Month by looking at all of the other cartoons -- the one with the cat looking in the mirror is particularly funny. Your culture-vulture merit badge will arrive in the mail.

Every couple of years I celebrate by sending out a poem (not by me) to friends, who, to prove they are friends, remain so despite having to at least look at a poem (not necessarily to read it) once a year. This year I thought I would spare them all the terror of receiving a piece of mail from me by posting links to some poems I like. No need to tactfully avert one's eyes from lines/stanzas/who knows what else. Just don't click on the connections.

So, here are some poems, with the occasional note.

The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes. My mother used to read this to us, very melodramatically.

Concord Hymn, by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I remember this from elementary school.

Shield of Achilles, by W.H. Auden. I liked this in high school. Click on reading guides for both a poem and commentary. I like "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden, "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning, and "Not Waving but Drowning" by Stevie Smith.

Booker T and W.E.B, by Dudley Randall. I discovered this today. Happy National Poetry Month to me!

Child on top of a Greenhouse and My Papa's Waltz, both by Theodore Roethke.

The Revenant by Billy Collins. He was the keynote speaker at the California Library Association's conference in, I think 2007 or 2006, and read this poem among others. I particularly like the last two lines.

Deathfugue, by Paul Celan; translator John Felstiner. Extremely dark; extraordinarily moving. Felstiner's translation is magnificent. I've read other translations, which pale by comparison with his.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who creates those surveys, anyway?

I just finished the California Public Libraries Survey that my local library system had on its website. This is a state-wide survey, as evident from both the title and the list of geographical areas available in a drop-down menu at the "where is the library you go to " question.

Based on a couple of questions, including the last one, (had I heard of some named online live reference site -- the name escapes me and I can't get back into the survey,) its main aim seems to be to determine an interest in 24/7 online reference access.

Given that interest, you would think it might include a question asking if web access is available in the home, but no, it didn't. In fact, one question assumed you had internet access in your home. I think the surveyors missed a chance to get some information on home-based web access, by geographical area, age, and income, all info asked for by the survey.

The question that seriously annoyed me, however, had to do with what type of material one uses when one visits the library. It had a lengthy list, including fiction, non-fiction, magazines/newspapers/articles, and various specific categories of non-fiction, plus ebooks and electronic databases. So far, so good. However, the respondent could only choose one. What? The surveyors apparently think that persons going to a library go only for one purpose -- no mixing picking up the latest mystery and looking for consumer info. (Which, in any event, was not a category.)

Hence my question: who writes those surveys?

I answered the question on types of materials used by choosing "other," which had a box into which one could enter something, so I entered "why can't I choose more than one thing? Now the surveyors know who writes those answers.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mutterings, Witterings, and Random Thoughts (oh my)

Today's (March 24) San Francisco Chronicle has an article in the Technology and Business Section titled "The Best Affordable Cars," with the subtitle "A few quality components make these autos the ones for budget shoppers to get." The prices for the four featured cars were $16,375, $21,200, $26,325, and $30,000. Ok, the first one is a low price these days, but just what budget do the buyers of a $30K car have?

Are super delegates at the Democratic convention a retro touch? As far as I can figure out, they are a throwback to the smoke-filled rooms of past conventions, when primary votes didn't count for anything. Super delegates can apparently vote for anyone, regardless of how their state or congressional district voted. Ok, I'm willing to let Bill Clinton, a super delegate because he's a past Democratic president, vote for Hillary: NY voted for her anyway, I think, but even if it hadn't, what's the point of having a husband if he won't vote for you in the convention. But otherwise I'm not keen on super delegates.

I recently succumbed to an offer in the mail of a subscription to Time magazine for a period about a century or so, for only $20. I regretted it about a week later when I got a similar offer from Newsweek, which I preferred to Time the last time I read either. Then I really regretted it when I got my first issue. It's a mixture of CNN's homepage and People magazine. I'm too lazy to cancel, so I'll put up with it, but I am certainly not going to renew, should I happen to outlive the subscription period. I already subscribe to The Economist for real news, so I can't complain too much.

And speaking of The Economist, it's a great example of technology: the issue I receive on Friday can include articles and cover stories on events that happened on Tuesday or Wednesday of the same week. Of course, that timeliness can be enticing to others: the first issue after Hurricane Katrina hit was delayed in delivery about three weeks, which I attribute to those in the delivery chain taking time to read it.

The title of this post is an amalgam of Larie R. King's use of "mutterings" and the use of "wittering" (maybe only as a verb, however) in Bridget Jones' Diary.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sam Gamgee and vivisection

Noodling around in some library catalogs, I came across an entry for:

Gamgee, Sampson. The Influence of Vivisection on Human Surgery. 2nd ed., 1882. (No publication information provided.)

Is this a descendant of Samwise Gamgee, Frodo's valiant companion in The Lord of the Rings? Wikipedia has an article about Sampson Gamgee, with his father mentioned, but nothing further. Let's hope someone investigates further ....

Wikipedia also has an interesting article about Samwise, and a letter Tolkien received from someone of that name, who might have been a relative of Sampson.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I Should Have my Head Examined

The title of this post is what my mother, of blessed memory, would say when she had done something foolish. It ran through my head this morning as I sat in my car in the supermarket parking lot, debating whether to get out and go into the store, or to just turn the car back on and go home. The reason? Today, Sunday, February 3rd, is the day of that televised sports extravaganza that:

1. Is the cause of about 5% of the annual avocado sales in the US;
2. According to urban legend (probably untrue) causes municipal water levels to fall during the commercials and half-time show as most of the US population flushes toilets during bathroom visits.
3. Is the basis for numerous media reports/studies before game day of the commercials to be aired and those previously-aired during this annual show, and of post-game day analyses of the ones seen;
4. Is so protected by its team of lawyers that I wouldn't dream of using its trademarked/copyrighted/whatever-it-is name in this post, for fear of finding not heavy-duty linebackers at my door as legal enforcers, but the even-more-to-feared said lawyer team.

So, why was I so indecisive in the parking lot? Well, it's also true that the said extravaganza produces a lot of what I think of as amateur shoppers at the grocery store prior to the kick-off, not to mention truly scary drivers racing to get home in time for said kick-off.

I hadn't planned to go, but I fell into auto-pilot. My typical Sunday morning starts with coffe and the newspaper at a nearby outlet of the fast-food chain whose coffee was rated higher by a national consumer magazine (which also doesn't like its name used in connection with its ratings) than the coffee at the number one barista chain in the entire universe. Then I go to the 99 cents store to start my grocery shopping --- a bag of six bananas for 99 cents! two quarts of milk in recylable plastic for 99 cents each (that's a half gallon for $1.98!) a bag of small carrots for 99 cents! I love that store.

Then I move on to a chain grocery for other stuff. And that's what I was doing there, despite the fact that I had carefully looked in the paper to see what time the kick-off was (at the mysteriously exact time of 3:17,) with the idea of going shopping later. But auto pilot won out, and there I was at about 10am.

The parking lot was jammed. I finally decided to go in, rather than go home. I managed to grab one of the few carts available (that's par for the course a lot of times on Sunday --- said national-chain store doesn't do a good job of having carts available) and headed in. And, indeed, the place was chock-full of gentlemen, singly or in pairs, loading up on what I hope were supplies for their sports extravaganza parties, because otherwise there are a lot of them who subsist on chips, salsa, and beer, all eaten off of paper plates. (The good news: they use a lot of napkins, too.)

Really, it wasn't too bad. The worst part is ongoing: the store was remodeled about a year ago, as part of a "life-style enhancement" or something like that. That seems to consist of an olive bar and a branch of the afore-mentioned barista chain in the store. One result of the remodeling is that three aisles are a lot narrower, and have support posts further blocking them in addition to the usual cardboard displays. Those aisles are always inconvenient, but put a lot of people in them (as this morning,) and they're grim. It's the only grocery for about two miles in any direction, so I keep going there, but I grumble every time.

Today, thought, I got in and out in a reasonable amount of time, given all the guys wandering around. As inexperienced shoppers, they lack the basic foraging skills more regular shoppers know: salsa? Try condiment aisle, or potatoe chip aisle. (Salsas are in both.) I will admit that paper plates are tough: this store, for some reason, puts them across from the soup cans. No one was buying frozen pizzas as far as I could tell, and I carefully avoided the beer/wine aisles.

The whole experience reminded me of a photo in a book I recently gave my sister as a present. Titled Porn for Women, it lacked nude/scantily-clad guys in suggestive poses, but, instead, consisted of photos of good-looking, fully-clad guys doing things to make any woman's heart rate go up. (The cover shows one vacuuming.) The one I was reminded of was a photo of a guy reading a newspaper, and saying, with a genuine smile on his face, "Honey, the play-offs are today. We should have NO trouble parking at the crafts fair." Be still, my heart.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Thinking outside the (jewelry) box

I've had a number of compliments on two bracelet sets I've been wearing the past week or two. Each set consists of colored beads on three stretchable bands -- one set in shades of green, one in gold and burgundy. I'm upfront about where I got them: on the hairclip rack at Kmart. They were intended for use in tying up what I still call pony tails, although perhaps these days they are called something else. Cheap and attractive: that's not me, but my bracelets.